1990 Reds / 2018 Reds

How a Winner Is Made

All offseason, we’re all going to be talking about the same thing. How can the Reds get from where they are to where they want to be. I mean, we feel okay about he offense, but they have a primary infielder who was below replacement level and an outfielder who continually falls well short of his potential. So much so that you have to wonder sometimes if the Reds know what they’re doing.

The 1990 Reds, I mean.

In 1990, the primary first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds was one of the worst players in the league. He was “worth” -1.5 WAR. Remember Todd Benzinger? In the outfield, there was a player with heralded tools who just couldn’t generate the offense everyone felt he needed to generate and so, he was below average, worth only 1.3 WAR. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paul O’Neill.

In fact, only Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and Hal Morris managed to provide above-average value among position players. The 1990 team wasn’t really an offensive power house. It was more of a pitching team. But maybe you knew that already.

But you may not remember that the 1989 Reds weren’t so great at pitching. The rotation was a shambles, with only two pitchers starting more than 20 games (not good for the era).

The point I want to make here is that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we know. A team with players who don’t hit well particularly well can win the World Series (you already know about Benzinger, but Joe Oliver also provided Billy Hamilton-level hitting in 1990). A team with players who are mismanaged like O’Neill, in hindsight, clearly can win the World Series. A team with a rotation that doesn’t seem very healthy or stable can win the World Series the next year.

Every World Series winner is both good and lucky.

There is a lot of talk about what the Reds HAVE to do. That they can’t win with Jose Peraza getting 400 or 500 PAs. That they can’t win with Hamilton getting serious at bats. I promise you this, whatever you think is an absolute requirement for a World Series champion, some team has won the World Series without that thing before.

What the Reds need to do is get better. How they get better doesn’t matter except there are obvious places where the options to improve are cheaper/easier. Studies have been done. A stars and scrubs lineup is just as effective as a lineup where everyone is a little above average. A hitting team can win. A pitching team can win. Teams win with bad managers and lose with great managers.

I do not know if the Reds will be good in 2018. I don’t necessarily know the easiest ways for them to improve (though I suspect the names Winker, Senzel, Castillo, and Mahle are involved), but I want to try to constantly maintain a view of the big picture. It may be that Jose Peraza (I don’t mean to keep picking on him, I think his changed plate approach from the second half actually bodes quite well) doesn’t improve and he still gets 500 PAs and the Reds still win the wild card. There are many possible paths to the playoffs.

After all, we’ve seen it before.

52 thoughts on “How a Winner Is Made

  1. I agree that the Reds need to just get better in general and that standing pat and letting things continue to sort is not a responsible course of action. What makes the most sense to me would be to target the following 2 areas:

    1. Leverage redundant minor league assets and combine them with one player from the big club to trade for an above average cost controlled player. There are redundancies on other teams (Joc Pedersen, Ketel Marte, Jackie Bradley, Ceasar Hernandez, etc.) where we could match up well.

    2. Be aggressive in the relief pitching market via trade or free agency. There are quality relievers to be had and the cost will be affordable as the quantity is high. Must have at least one, preferably two. I do not assume a starter can do the job in high leverage situations.

  2. I know a lot of folks are irritated with the Reds not winning. But I’m an organizational change consultant, so for me, the Reds rebuild is pretty cool to watch.

    The strategy seems pretty obvious. Increase the quality of the starting and relief pitching while improving or declining slightly at the plate and in the field. Adding Senzel and Winker probably offsets losing Cozart. Suarez’s Votto-inspired approach is working and so is his glove. Adding Winker creates a 4-man rotation in the outfield that can get Duvall some much needed regular rest and leverage Hamilton’s value defensively and as a force of DisRUpTiOn.

    Pereza is young and has lots of room to grow. Gennett will likely not have a 2018 like his 2017 but it’s possible. Barnhart is a stud and has all his labrums. Meso is a risk but might be able to produce. And Votto is Votto.

    So, I think the strategy comes down to how well the 4 rookie pitchers advance in their sophomore seasons and if Bailey, Disco, and Finny can produce (I think Finny is the set-up man before the 2018 is done). The Reds can fill the bullpen holes with a mix of vets and younger pitchers.

    And, finally, remember the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. That applies to the Reds and it also applies to everyone else. That means the most important strategic element is to adapt as adversity comes and get a little bit of luck.

    • Tom,

      Great post.

      I, too, consult and work on salvaging dying companies, bought for pennies on the dollar.

      Taking a big picture perspective, Steamer currently projects the 2018 Reds at:

      72-90
      5th place
      20 games behind the Cubs

      IF, IF…the Reds got off to a 2017 Rockies hot start, consider upgrading at the trade deadline to stay in playoff race.

      Otherwise, letting young starting staff, Peraza, Mahle (?), others get playing time in a non-playoff year is just sound use of sunk costs. Finalize in-house roster for future opening of playoff window.

      Particularly with data made public that “buying wins” via free agency isn’t optimal until your team is at the 85 win or so level, to “get over the hump.”

      Dick Williams will know this, and it would be shocking if any big FA splash happens this winter.

      • Thanks – thanks for your insight as well.

        I think you’re right – 2018 is probably sunk cost – or, it’s an investment. Unless they’re beset by major injuries, the Reds WILL contend at some point in the next few years. It’ll take a lot of development and even more luck for that contention to start in 2018 – I think 2019 is a more realistic year.

        The one other thing I try to keep in mind is that Price was an exceptionally good pitching coach and he now has some really talented young pitchers. While I’d love to “borrow” his lineup card now and then, what I saw last year gave me hope for Price – this team never quit even after all hope was lost. That’s a testimate to the quality of players the Reds have developed and to Price – because he creates focus. If the 2018 Reds have that level of focus with far better pitching (think August of 2017 quality), the parts might fold together much faster.

  3. We might win with Peraza & Hamilton in the lineup and starting nearly everyday. But I don’t want them on the reds (not starting anyway). I doubt that Peraza’s bat is gonna improve to the level I’d like to see (consistent .320+ BA). That’s about the only way I could put up with a player who has little to no power (a really high BA & maybe even coupled WITH a high OBP. Not one or the other).

    This article seems like it’s trying to get us to accept the weaker players on a team just bcuz nearly everyone else around them may be good or above average. I know the real point of this article is that there is no right formula for a championship team but it seems to me that it’s kind of a backdoor way of telling us to accept the weaker players on a team bcuz they won’t necessarily prevent us from winning a championship. I think they won’t do much (if anything at all) to help win a possible championship either.

    Then the article mentions 2 players from the 1989/1990 reds about how they didn’t start out so good but then seemingly turned a major corner the following year. I don’t think Peraza & Hamilton are capable of that kind of turn. And, lord knows I like Cozart and would like to see him brought back, but I don’t wanna wait 5 to 7 yrs for Peraza and/or Hamilton to finally have a breakout year.

    • Huh? Benzinger was terrible always. O’Neill didn’t become a reliably good player until he was a Yankee.

      You are right about what my actual point is. I’m trying to encourage people to be less extreme in terms of what “has to” happen for the Reds to be good.

      • Jason,
        Good points on Benzinger & O’Neill. I had forgotten how bad Todd was. O’Neill, man I wish the Reds had kept Paul. But, o well.

        I just don’t care nothing for the types of players that Peraza & Hamilton are. Hamilton would be ok if he could get on base more with a high BA. But, I just don’t think he has it in him to drastically change for the better at the plate.

    • Ummmm….

      only 7 qualified players in all of MLB had a batting average of .320 or higher.

      only 25 players hit .300 or better.

      I am not pro or anti Peraza, but to just give up on him, after 799 at bats, at age 23 and not seeing free agency until 2023 is not sound, given the Reds small fish position in the MLB pond.

      Blaming Peraza in the context of the Reds being a last-place team is akin to blaming the active musicians on the Titanic. Their actions may annoy you, but he/they aren’t big in the scope of the overall problems. Not at all.

      • Sliotar,
        It may not be sound to give up on Peraza but I don’t care about none of that or the reds investment in him. I don’t see wasting possible years on trying to develop a player who projects to be at best an average player. Like I said, I like Cozart and want to see him back with the Reds, but I don’t wanna waste several yrs “waiting” for one of them to finally “get it”.

        I also did not blame Peraza or Hamilton for the reds recent losing. All I said was that I don’t think weak players will do much if anything to help a team win a championship.

        So, what can I say, persecute me bcuz I’m willing to give up on Peraza…bcuz I care nothing for him. Just the way I feel.

    • Sandman: Different players have different strengths. BH is a weak hitter, but a great defender. Winker may well prove to be a good hitter but is unlikely to be strong defensively. I take Jason’s point to be that there are many ways to win.

  4. The Reds can be a good team if they can maintain the health of their starting pitchers for a change. The lack of experience and depth in the rotation over the last two years has just crippled this team. This team very well could be playoff worthy assuming a productive rotation with the type of offense we saw this past season.

    I think organizational change is an interesting thing. The huge question is whether the Reds front office can identify some kind of market inefficiency that other incredibly intelligent front office mavens are not seeing around the league. Does anyone know any more about Dick Williams focus on training and conditioning as part of this plan? Maybe that is how the Reds want to build a winner. What if one team had half the major injuries of any others?

    One thing that gives me pause, as it has others, is to see Brian Price manage seemingly at odds with any kind of unique organizational strategy. That is to say the lineup construction and, for most of the season, use of the bullpen.

    • I know they increased investment in things like conditioning and nutrition at all levels, so maybe that will help, but I too am perplexed at why the Reds, other than one or two seasons there a few years back, seem to have a higher than average amount of days lost to DL/injury when it comes to starting pitchers. Majors, minors, doesn’t seem to matter. Half the list of starting pitching candidates is shelved for at least several weeks every year with about 20% seemingly lost for the season.

      • Pretty sure that I recall somebody checking on this and finding that the Reds are middle-of-the-pack in injuries. Seems worse than that to us because we’re fans.

    • They aren’t being over-used, that’s for sure. Maybe they’re babied too much? Maybe they’re not pitching enough between starts?

      I really hate the steady decrease in inning pitched per start and the decrease of starts per year. I guess we’re heading to starters and relievers all pitching the same amount of innings…everyone tossing 130 innings or so?

  5. I just read where Peraza just played 8 games in the Venezuelan league, 6 at shortstop, and was shutdown by the Reds. Is there something brewing?

  6. I think that the age of analytics has changed what we know and makes it easier for even the layman to see a players value or lack of value with number’s like War and WRC+ etc.

    This is largely why the opinions re Peraza and BHam are so strong and the viewpoint that the Reds organization needs to do something to correct the two weak spots at SS & CF.

    Analytics gives SOME level of understanding of what it takes to make a valuable player at any defensive position. For example: Peraza’s Short stop defense over 86 games shows he is way below 0 war. – 18 rtot/yr. Although his fielding percentage is slightly above the league average, his range is bad.

    Peraza’s age and late season adjustments give me pause, but not as a Short Stop. His SS defense it seems isn’t something he can overcome.

    Peraza could become an everyday second baseman by continuing to improve his plate discipline, but we don’t need another second baseman.

  7. Definition of a Consultant: guy who knows 100 ways to make love but doesn’t know any women. I’m tired of watching the Reds rebuild. It’s time to win.

  8. I agree. We just don’t know what will happen in 2018. Another variable is always the other teams you play. Do you play them when they/you are at full strength, or is a valuable hitter/fielder or pitcher injured at the time. What part of the Rotation are you facing. If we could face the Dodgers and not have to face Kershaw does are chances of winning that series go up?

    • Like the Definition of a Consultant. My girlfriend, who has more degrees than me and is the brains of our partnership, might make a T-shirt out of it.

      Sorry if I came across as the messager of bad news.

      But, I suspect the Reds are very much run like a business and while my MBA isn’t from Virginia like Dick Williams, the data suggests that the Reds are unlikely to be a winner in 2018. They won’t be spending much money if they envision missing the playoffs. That’s just throwing away $, from a business management perspective.

      How can the Reds make up the 20 WAR that they are projected to be short of for the division title? Buying WAR via free agency isn’t cheap.

      The future looks bright whenever the kid starters mature, and Senzel and Winker, etc and get the win total up internally.

      • This is the ticket. We can get impatient all we want but until senzel+Winker=10 WAR we’re still in rebuild mode.

  9. A full season of Winker and Senzel. Limit Duvall to 400 atbats. Platoon Scooter vs lefties. Trade Billy or bat him 9th. Don’t bat Peraza at all. I think this could improve on their 14th ranking in runs scored….maybe 8th-10th? The pitching should/could greatly improve to middle of the pack. That might get them to .500 this year and make 2019 look pretty promising? If they had to trade Scooter for example…to the Yankees for one of their big arms in the pen then go for it. You would hope the other guys can pick up the slack.

  10. glad the 1990 club is brought up on RLN. Our analytics that year were not nearly as strong as the A’s or Pirates for that matter. but we beat them because of our superior athleticism that year. where are the sabo’s, Larkin’s, Davis’es, Hatcher’s, Bragg’s Oniels’s anymore?.

    the Reds are best when we are flying around the bases, double stealing, hitting and running, making leaping catches over the wall.

    That is why I can’t believe everybody on RLN wants to dump Hamilton and Peraza. they are our fastest base runners and with Hamilton in center, barnhart at catcher, peraza at second we are very strong defensively up the middle.

    • Jreis,
      Not everybody wants Peraza & BHam gone…but I am one of the ones who do.

      We can find defensive players (and maybe even speedy ones as well) who are also good with the bat if DW would just look for them. I’m sure they’re out there even young major league ready players.

      Just bcuz the Reds went out and got these 2 guys don’t mean we have to keep giving them chances.

      • sandman, I actually think we have some good speedy defenders in the minors coming up. I am thinking of an outfield of Hamilton, tramel taylor, Jose Siri with Ervin as a fourth.

        it would be hard to find a gap if you are an opposing hitter with those guys.

    • I think we won in 1990 due to pitching, pitching, pitching. Rijo, Armstrong and the nasty boys, Dibble, Myers and Charlton.

      We had solid hitting, average power with nearly all displaying some pop, and decent OBP, but without Armstrong’s strong start or Rijo’s post-season…and the nasty boys being nasty all year long, we don’t win.

      Billy Hatcher was a key part in the WS itself and he was basically what Jose Peraza will likely become, a slap hitter with a pretty good eye. Peraza has more speed, but I can see him being alot like a Hatcher spark plug down the line with 45 doubles gap power.

      Who knows, none of thought the 1990 Reds were serious contenders and yet, boom it happened. Just as suddenly, it went wrong fast after 1990. Since then, we’ve been mostly power hitting team with little in the way of fundamentals and pitching-poor (most of the seasons since, not all).

      Pitching is the key, the lineup could stay the same and with just league average starting pitching, we’re knocking on the wild card door. Good pitching has us in division contention heading into September, but with all the injuries that seem to never end, I don’t see how we get “good” pitching.

      • In 1990,pitching was a good part of the story, but that team was outstanding defensively, too. Goes hand-in-hand.

        • Very true, and the hitting was solid, just not league leaders. One thing is pretty much every position offered some offensive output and few were easy outs. After 1990, the Reds became a team of one or two good hitters and a bunch of easy (high k or ground out rate) outs.

  11. How can the Reds make up the 20 WAR that they are projected to be short of for the division title? Buying WAR via free agency isn’t cheap. -Sliotar

    This is exactly the point. The Reds either have to get a big increase in performance out of their young players (which is entirely possible), or trade/buy more talent (WAR). The obvious question is where are they weak position-wise in WAR? Centerfield, and SS if Cozart doesn’t come back (he had a career year in 2017, which we all know).

    The other place where they need to pick up WAR is obviously starting pitching. It could happen. Talking about the 1990 Reds, remember Jack Armstrong?

    • Yep, JA was like 14-1 at the All-star break right? Something like that. The pitching is the key, if we keep seeing one DL trip after another, kiss a winning record and contention for wild card goodbye. If most stay healthy in 2018, we’re definite wild-card contenders. We have some seriously good SP1/SP2 potential in upper minors. Garrett fell off the wagon, but for first few weeks and most of last two years has looked like a future SP1. We all know about Castillo and his SP1 stuff. Throw in Mahle and a couple more that have SP2 upside and if injuries are avoided, we can have a GOOD rotation that might have a Bailey and Desco as SP4/SP5 which would be a solid back end (even if not quite what they were after injuries).

  12. I remember 1990. Access to baseball info was much smaller – think a trickle vs a fire hose, and the heroes seemed much greater.

    I often wonder if having all this data and knowledge makes me a happier fan. Would it be better to know less and to hope more? I’d probably shout less at the internet.

    • Good point, Jesse. I’m showing my age, but what fun is it to take projections of futility so seriously that they ruin the off-season for you? Where’s Santa when we need him?

    • Honestly, I miss the days of waking up, getting the Atlanta Constitution paper off the driveway and checking box scores. The west coast trips meant every box score was a day behind (late scores from day before results).

      It was fun not knowing if they won, the checking the box score and seeing who hit an HR or what pitcher threw a complete game (wow, those used to be common, didn’t they)?

      I am not as happy with the internet and abundance of short clips of news, mostly not news just rambling crap to get clicks (and AD money). You have to sort through 10 links to find 1 that has something interesting. Sucks. It actually is like 40 years ago, just that we have to filter out all the useless crap instead of the Sports editor of your local newspaper.

  13. I just read some interesting info on Nick Castellanos from the Tigers. I’m a huge Adam Duvall fan, but Castellanos has a lot more upside if they could pull something off? He’ll be 26 next March and had a .810 ops with 36 doubles, AL league leading 10 triples, and 26 bombs. He also made 17 outs that went atleast 390 feet….leading mlb! A guy like that could cruise up to the 40 HR range with the Reds very easily!

    • I wouldn’t be against it, but isn’t he 3B (and some 1B) where we have Suarez and Senzel? Never hurts to have a logjam, as it gives you more ways to improve your lineup. Duvall is solid, so if we trade him, need to get a good player back, either very good prospect or a good current MLB player that fills a need. He could easily bring back a good starting SS (not a slugger, but a good SS that is mid or early 20s).

  14. What is interesting about this Reds team is the amount of potential with its crop of starting pitchers. We already know the team can hit (with a couple notable exceptions) and play defense. If the Reds can form a rotation of five starters that separate themselves above the rest and that can stay healthy, the Reds have a shot at a wildcard spot. DeSclafani, Bailey, Castillo, Mahle, Finnegan, Garrett, Stephenson, Davis, Mella, Romano. The majority of these pitchers have shown they can pitch at the Major League level, at least in small sample sizes.

    • I agree, SP in upper minors has so much potential (and also MLB rookies and 2nd year players). If they can just find and sustain above average health for a couple of seasons…we can be serious contenders for wildcard and maybe even central division if Cubs take a step back (and I think they will).

  15. If I were Williams I would sell off Votto. (AKA the Marlins with Stanton). That would free up a bunch of team building assets.

    (My first choices would be Mesoraco and Bailey, but only a lunatic would take their salaries on.)

    • Votto has a full NTC, and he has been clear he will not go anywhere else. It’s a story that is dead on arrival. Votto is and has been worth every penny. Not sure he will be the last couple of years of the deal, but who knows, if he takes care of himself in the off-season every year, he could be above average into his late 30s.

      • So does Stanton. But the Marlins basically told him that if he did not waive his no-trade, they would be willing to sell off their other top players.

        We will see if it works with Stanton. I doubt it would with Votto. Based on his approach at the game.

    • My question when the idea comes up to trade Votto is; what are you going to do with that $20 million that would make the team better?

      • Yeah, I think those that want to sell are only thinking of those last couple of years of the deal when he’ll probably be a shell of himself. I was thinking like that two years ago, with the mediocre season and knee injuries, but now, I think keeping him is a no-brainer.

        It will be $25 million per for several years that would be saved, but even then, say you sign one player for $15 and one for $10 mill, that might get you an SP2- and maybe a #2 or #6 hitter, and chances are, one of the two fail to live up to the contract.

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